Few and Many, Spirit and Morality (3/18/15)

I am approaching the point where Christianity, insofar as it is single-mindedly preoccupied with sin and virtue, has little to contribute to my spiritual awakening. This enthrallment with moral struggle—so pervasive, both in Judaism and in Christianity—is predicated, I suspect, upon a belief in the ultimate reality of the separate self (or, if you like, the immortal soul). This contest, or agon, between good and evil—whether this contest is fought within the “sinner’s” breast or in some aggressive crusade against an external, ‘evil’ enemy—is one of the principal motors (along with hunger, sex/reproduction, and the need for security) that drive and orient human beings on the stage of dramatic conflict that recorded human history chiefly consists in. Gradually reducing the ‘electricity’ that powers this crucial motor within myself has enabled me to see just how foolish, tormented, blinkered and hateful so much of motorized human activity really is. It is pretty simple: so long as a majority of persons is convinced that the principal aim of both individual and collective action is the triumph of moral virtue over sin, of religious orthodoxy over irreligion (perverted religion) or one cherished ideology (say, free market Capitalism) over a despised one (e.g., Communism or Socialism), humanity will continue to be locked in a self-destructive war with itself—both inside and out.

Of course, I am not advocating the suspension or jettisoning of all ethical principles and means of tempering our aggressive impulses, our lusts, and appetites, and other patently dangerous drives and inclinations. I am not endorsing anarchic indulgence of our wild and unruly instincts—whereby we would be leaping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. I may even be ready to admit that this traditional scheme of hellish punishments and heavenly rewards—precisely because it demonstrates proven power to keep large segments of the beclouded multitude sufficiently tamed so as not to ‘act up’ any more than is already the case—should by all means be left intact and regularly reinforced where the generality is concerned. Children require supervision. Boundaries and rules need to be set and real penalties must be imposed when those rules are broken—when those boundaries are prematurely exceeded or ignored.

May I be justly accused, here, of holding a double standard—one that applies to the blinkered ‘mass man,’ who is likened to a child, and another one that applies to the few, who are implicitly linked with mature adulthood? Perhaps. May I also be justly accused of suggesting that these ‘mature’ specimens have earned for themselves a perspective on things that is ‘beyond (conventional) good and evil’? Perhaps, but only if what is entailed in earning that perspective is thoroughly understood and accepted, and such an understanding appears to be relatively rare.

At a certain stage in our spiritual maturation, unreflective or dogmatic attachment to the old, deeply-ingrained moral law becomes a serious encumbrance to our inner freedom. Like a weighty millstone around our neck, it continues to impose duties and obligations that we have already begun to perceive in a subtler light—but which we are not quite clear and strong enough to slough off.

It is at this crucial stage of our spiritual ripening that we are in a position, perhaps for the first time, to understand the relative, self-canceling, nature of the various pairs of ‘reified’ or metaphysical opposites. A truth—or insight—that is deeper and even more fundamental than the realization about the futile, un-winnable war between good and evil, or light and darkness, begins to take hold of the spiritual initiate’s consciousness. What he glimpses is that all dogmatic or metaphysical dualities are both illusory and the matrix out of which most other illusions are born. When this profound insight is first registered, of course, its implications cannot at once be grasped. They are merely hinted at. But the main insight—namely, that there are no ‘breaks’, ‘splits,’ or ‘gaps’ in nature or the psyche, and that all elements, levels, and states are interconnected—is a watershed realization for the ‘initiate.’

But for awhile, the initiate is of ‘two minds.’ Because this fateful glimpse into the deeper and subtler reality behind the veil of ordinary consciousness is so compelling in its veracity and its authority, the initiate’s estimation of the essential trustworthiness of ordinary, unreflective consciousness (and discourse) sinks to an unprecedented low. Suddenly, the world of everyday experience, the normal round of activities, the value and substance of many of his relationships—all of these suddenly pale in significance, in vividness, and in value when compared to the blessed-accursed glimpse he got of the mystery always lurking behind the veil that was briefly lifted. On the one hand, he feels blessed to have received such a momentous, consciousness-altering revelation. On the other hand, because this experience has so profoundly disturbed his former, familiar bearings and distanced him from the norms and priorities embraced by the general community, he cannot help but feel cursed, as well—at least, initially.

He may with some justice be said to have a foot in two practically incommensurable worlds—in neither of which he can claim to possess full citizenship. He no longer feels fully and confidently invested in the discredited, ‘unmasked’ shadow world where virtually everyone else lives and pursues his personal interests and inclinations. Nor does he yet feel stably and solidly planted in the far more compelling, if elusive, world of psychological or ‘imaginal’ perception. For some time, our ambiguous/ambivalent demi-denizen of two not quite fully inhabited realms of experience must simply endure this unenviable stage of metamorphosis. Neither worm nor butterfly, our unfinished one is something ‘in between’ (metaxy)—a kind of ‘bridge’ between being and non-being. Try as he may, he cannot work up a sustained interest in the activities and preoccupations of those around him who are still firmly fixed at the worm stage. And, of course, this cuts both ways: if he finds them sluggish, ‘soft,’ and exasperatingly linear, the ‘worms’ find him irritating and threatening (like salt on a snail’s moist back). Moreover, this unfinished one has no stable and trustworthy form—but is ‘all over the place,’ like all things larval.

On the other hand, not until the transformation or maturation has carried through to completion will his fully-formed wings appear—the liberty-bestowing wings that will enable the ripened initiate to move freely in the infinite region beyond the self-spun walls of his silken cocoon. Thus, it makes good, natural sense for the psyche (which, in ancient Greek, also connoted ‘butterfly’) to remain quietly secluded within the womb of its solitude while the critical and delicate metamorphosis from creaturely crawler upon the earth to beautiful, winged voyager in the sunny air runs its destined course.

 

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The Spiritual, Moral/Political, and Judicious/Pedagogical Use of Words (8/21/12)

How is it that I am able to justify placing the spiritual life—as I have slowly come to understand it—on a higher rung of importance than the life dedicated primarily to moral and political justice, as Hedges and Chomsky—who are admirable men—do? It is because I have learned that the practice of moral and political justice in my own life—the only life I have a measure of direct influence over—is overshadowed and subsumed by my practice of the spiritual, or contemplative life. What this means is that, so far as I can see, the best way I can contribute to moral and political justice in my social and political surroundings is to strive to maintain a relatively disinterested, poised state of spiritual centeredness. As long as I am centered and balanced in this way, I am not compelled by powerful anger, resentment, desire, fear, and other emotions that naturally prompt humans to go to war ‘for’ this and ‘against’ that—to take sides in some kind of struggle between an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ There will, it seems, always be contending groups and embattled individual egos in the world of ordinary human affairs and the moment we take one side we enter into a potentially hostile dynamic with the other. The various pairs of opposites that appear to be composed of warring or antagonistic factions are essentially (and un-apparently or invisibly) gapless continua, not split dualisms. But in order to see—and to genuinely experience—this underlying unity beneath the apparent strife we must manage somehow to mentally transcend the dualistic or oppositional paradigm—as Arjuna does, under Krishna’s wise supervision, in the Bhagavad Gita. Of course, the simple Christian utterance which is so difficult to practice—namely, ‘Love your enemy’—is a kind of mantra, the intended purpose of which is to break the oppositional, ‘us versus them,’ mode of seeing and feeling. Alas, this is the normal mode of seeing and feeling among human beings. Consequently, the teachings of Christ and the Buddha are widely, though often privately, regarded by humans as ‘insanely’ unrealistic, and even dangerously deluded in the sort of world that we actually inhabit (one that is full of hypocritical Christians and lip-service Buddhists), while from the transcendental, centered standpoint, dogs—or even dogs and cats together in the same room—often provide a better example of how to get on in the world than most human animals can manage.

Since I am fully aware that I cannot change other persons’ minds and hearts simply by preaching to them or by apprising them of their blindness and their unacknowledged (or unconsciously projected) villainy, I am wary of moral crusades and political revolutions that aim to purge society and to right the wrongs of the unjust. Human beings simply don’t change inwardly (which is the only kind of change that matters) unless and until they are truly ready. This readiness depends on a number of factors—a capacity for honest reflection being perhaps the most important of these—but it cannot be forced or compelled from without. Unfortunately, another key ingredient to the getting of wisdom appears to be deep suffering—and no good-hearted person prays that such suffering will torment even those persons we don’t like or care for. And yet, we may have to accept the fact that their arrogant ignorance and selfishness will not likely be overcome by mere reason and reflection alone—but will need to be beaten out of them in the school of hard knocks.

It is for this reason that I have gradually come to regard preaching and sermonizing as a comparatively crude way of contributing to the social harmony, political justice, and moral goodness of our surroundings. I have found that when I am able to reflect deeply, temper my own passions, and refrain from ‘us versus them’ thinking, I am in the best position to ‘teach without using words,’ as the old Taoists used to say. And yet, because I feel very much at home with words, it’s not likely that I will ‘shut up’ anytime soon. Perhaps, instead of attempting to ‘teach without using words,’ I will just have to settle for ‘writing between the lines.’

Excavating Ourselves (3/30/12)

Where the deeper and more existentially important matters in our lives are concerned, much more is beyond our conscious reach and control than we are inclined to believe—particularly in the atomized, personal ego-driven, consumerist culture we live in today. I would go further and say that, for most of us, those matters of which we do possess some real understanding and control are comparatively trivial and insignificant when set beside the habit-reinforced, structural factors that operate (very much like digestion and our immune systems) well below the threshold of our consciousness. These are the ‘determining’ and predisposing factors that mysteriously shape, steer, and color our conscious thoughts and feelings—about the world, about ourselves, and about others—before we think, before we feel, before we choose or decide. We learn that we are invisibly and inescapably bound in unwitting servitude to such factors as soon as we dig down to a certain depth. And because these factors are for the most part unconscious, they operate behind our backs like invisible gases that intoxicate, enrage, depress, sexually excite, inspire, and panic us. They may be likened to invisible puppeteers that move us about without our knowledge or consent.

Some of these puppet strings were already in place before we were born—others were fastened to us later (following our ‘formative’ experiences with Mommy, Daddy, Father Hamilton, S.J., Uncle Sam, Ma Bell and her corporate kin, etc.)—but we cannot untie ourselves from them unless and until we become conscious of them as being somehow other than us. As long as we are oblivious to these strings and the powers that move them and us around, we will only be able to throw up our hands and say, each time they act up, ‘Well, that’s just me! I wish I were different, but that’s who I am.’ So long as we believe ourselves to be consubstantial with these unseen determining factors, we will never really be free of their power and authority over us. It is easy to see this in cases of alcohol or drug addiction—but these are comparatively crude and destructive forms of servitude. The forms that we are concerned with here are subtle and—aside from the fact that they operate beyond our conscious control—just as frequently benign, harmless, and even salutary as they are malignant, pathological, and disturbing.

Obviously, the most important first step we can take to liberate ourselves from these automatic, fate-deciding psychological complexes is to make them conscious. This means differentiating them from what I will call our essential self. As long as these complexes and patterns remain unconscious, they will remain undifferentiated from—or merged with—our core sense of personal identity. After we make headway differentiating our complexes, they become increasingly objectified. We learn about them—how they operate. We learn to recognize when we are most vulnerable to their domination, etc. But in order to proceed successfully with this sort of inner work, the psyche itself has to be understood in a radically new way. For many of us it comes as a surprise to learn that the psyche is every bit as real, enormous, complex, and ‘objective’ as the outer world and the vast universe are. We come to learn that we are in the psyche—just as we are in the universe. This is a very different perspective than the common (unenlightened) one, which locates the psyche ‘in’ us. Of course, the simple reason this actual arrangement is so hard for many Western persons to see is because our (individual and collective) attention is almost always directed outwards, in keeping with the deeply-rooted, one-sided prejudices of our materialistic, activity-obsessed, literalistic, anti-metaphorical, and unreflective culture. These prejudices must, one by one, be seen through and deconstructed before we can extricate our minds from their blinding and deforming influence. This is no small feat, of course, and considerable intellectual energy, discipline, and leisure will be required in order to make significant headway with this excavation work. We are ex-cavating ourselves (with an oblique reference here to Plato’s allegory of the cave) from the limited horizons of the prevalent modern Western worldview. Unless and until we truly begin to see this worldview (into which we were inserted at birth, just as we were dropped into our particular household, complete with our actual parents, socioeconomic prospects, religious affiliation, ethnic group, language group, etc.) as a historically conditioned, largely constructed and collective-habit-cemented, functional monstrosity, we are almost guaranteed to mistake it for ‘the truth’ or for ‘reality’—plain and simple—when in fact it is probably more accurate to describe it as a filter or veil standing in the way of more honest (and therefore messy) experience.

Ego and Spirit (10/3/12)

A state of unruffled, serene composure is what is left over after all the numerous, naturally-arising distractions of our attention have been gently but thoroughly rebuffed and brought to a stop. For the intellectual, who seems to thrive on the stimulation provided by fresh and provocative ideas, the deliberate cessation of all lines of thought feels almost like a betrayal of his calling. For the moral enthusiast, whose delicious sense of self-worth and personal importance hinges upon his unceasing efforts to ‘do the right thing’ for his fellows, the unplugging from all such thoughts and sentiments can feel like a gross dereliction of duty. For the man of action, whose very sense of identity is bound up with staying busily involved with his absorbing projects, such willed moments of stillness come up against every imaginable form of resistance. In short, numberless are the distractions that eclipse the serene stillness and contentment that are always just within the reach of the quieted mind.

If self-mastery consists largely in learning how to inhabit this ‘still point’ with greater ease and for longer stretches of time, then it depends to a great extent upon our learning how to not do, not think, and not be moved all over the mental chess board or billiard table by our habitual feelings and insistent passions. And yet, for most of us, these are precisely the factors that constitute our ‘humanity’ and our sense of personal identity. Little wonder, then, that they should put up such a fight as soon as our spiritual self (atman) begins to gently announce its presence. It is like the clash or collision between two diametrically opposed worlds, in a sense. The spirit is essentially free. It exists on its own, independently, in a liberated state. But the moment our absorption in that state of spiritual liberation is disturbed by the powerful distractions produced by (our consciousness of) the body, the emotions, and the intellect (i.e., the ego), we cannot help but see and interpret that ego (and its concerns) in completely new way. We begin to understand freedom in a radically new sense. Put simply, we learn that freedom, which is innate to the spirit, is essentially freedom from, while, from the ego’s perspective, it is understood as freedom to. But freedom to do what?

Since the ego is driven by—one might go so far as to say founded upon—desire, fear, and the will to power, freedom is understood to mean the satisfaction of its desires, the continual enhancement and extension of its will to power, and the control (or outright annihilation) of all feared/despised objects. As long as we are identified with the ego, our notion of freedom will naturally conform to these egoic objectives. As soon as there is genuine contact with the spirit, the ego necessarily experiences a profound crisis. Why is this?

From the spirit’s perspective, the ego (as a reified psychological complex) is prone to enslavement by its natural drives, habits, fears, ambitions, and cravings. The more intensely and vehemently the ego pursues its natural (literal, concretistic) aims, the deeper it digs itself into the hole of its imprisonment, which corresponds with its implicit belief in its primacy, its independent reality, and its ‘given’—as opposed to ‘constructed’—nature. Contact with the spirit does two things, then, for the ego. First of all, it presents a vividly experienceable form of freedom and contentment that is utterly new and utterly different from the appetitive forms of freedom and pleasure that it is accustomed to pursuing. Secondly, it subtly—one might almost say insidiously—poisons the ego’s naïve or innocent trust in its goals, its modus operandi, and its general assumptions about itself and the world. The ego gets a glimpse—an unforgettable taste—of the spirit’s radically different form of freedom. This spiritual freedom, as suggested earlier, is not only far more substantial and profound than the fleeting, unstable pleasures and successes won upon the human ego battlefield, but they expose the concretistic, compulsive, and consuming character of the ego’s fundamental tendencies—its dark and smoky engines, if you like.

‘Even if I win, I lose’: thus muses the newly enlightened (and therefore thoroughly humbled) ego. ‘I could be emperor of this world, and I would never really be secure, or contented, or certain of anything—except, that is, certain of my folly for choosing dominion over the whole wide world above humble abidance in the spirit that I have been mysteriously visited by.’

Death in Life (4/7/12)

From time to time I remember, all over again, what a prodigious misfit I am within my cultural world—if not within this species! My daimon must either be an avatar or an atavism—or more than a little of both. If I ask myself what is at the bottom of my misfitness, the first thing that leaps to mind is the recognition that the lights I strive to live by are noticeably different from—and often diametrically opposed to—the aims and purposes that almost everyone I know lives by. Sometimes I seem to be trying to undo what virtually everyone in this culture was brought up to do, to seek, to shoot for. I, too, was brought up much the same way, but obviously at some basic level it never took. My notion of freedom increasingly assumes the character of ‘wu-wei’ or ‘not-doing.’ This is certainly not born of laziness—since ‘not doing’ seems, paradoxically, to require a good deal more initiative and concentration than conforming to the generally prescribed norms and hitching my wagon to popularly endorsed pursuits, political figures, opinions, behaviors, etc.

‘Doing’ in the collectively sanctioned and endorsed ways often seems to entail ‘going with the flow,’ something I have instinctively resisted—in large part because this indeed strikes me as the lazy way of going about one’s business, even if such doing frequently involves burning off a lot of calories. It often amounts to a lot of huffing and puffing simply to push oneself further and faster in the very direction in which everything is already heading. (When and if the ‘giant pendulum’ reverses—as I am certain that it always eventually does—those who are first will be last, and those who are last will be first—in the new direction. But staying close to the center is the most prudent and moderate course to follow, I reckon.)

How do I feel about this general situation that I have sketched here? I can honestly say that I am neither happy and content nor ashamed and dejected—but, depending on the day and the circumstances, somewhere in between. The ‘human’ in me understandably longs for the soothing and affirming embrace of my fellow mortals—but the daimon subtly discourages my taking any more than a modest share of such comfort, since a few companions of quality outweigh a battalion of fragments. To continue to remain true and faithful in my service, the daimon limits me to only the most carefully chosen and mutually respectful affiliations with a handful of other like-minded comrades. Thus, soul-making is a kind of death in life, which, as it turns out, is infinitely preferable to the empty life of a dead soul.

Clutching my Crutches (2/7/12)

On my more honest days, I am willing to acknowledge how much I rely on being able to make reasonably coherent statements (of a philosophical-psychological character) in order to prop up my general sense of spiritual well-being. In admitting this I am not quite conceding that my philosophical claims make no positive contribution to other inquiring minds or that their function as supports for my spiritual well-being is their only salutary function. In blunter words, I am not ready to grant that these philosophical observations and speculations are merely consoling fictions I tell myself (and anyone else who will listen) simply in order to shield myself from the corrosive waves of ‘nihilism,’ ‘cynicism,’ and ‘pessimism’ that incessantly lap against my vulnerable shoreline.

It seems to be true, then, that my daily invocation of a select set of theoretical/spiritual principles plays a crucially decisive role in fighting back these waves and occasionally devastating tsunamis. Apparently, I see myself as a man besieged and that if I did nothing I would soon be engulfed by the muddy flood threatening to over-run the sandbag wall of philosophical journal entries behind which I have encamped for safety’s sake…for purity’s sake…for ‘God’s sake.’ For let me be candid: at some level I seem to believe that I am going about ‘my Father’s business’ in sheltering my soul from the mud and the slime that beset me on all sides—don’t I? How might this (now not so secret) conception of myself as a ‘servant of God’s plan’ feed into my pride and egotism? How might it widen and deepen the imagined gulf between me and ‘the others,’ those ‘ignorant and lost sheep’ who have swallowed down so much dirty, slimy floodwater that they are on the verge of drowning? What can I possibly do to assist such beleaguered souls? Don’t I have my hands full simply trying to maintain a hygienic distance from them? For in all honesty—aren’t they the flood? Or at least the contaminated carriers of all those malignant, microbial pathogens that I work so hard to keep away from my person—out of my breathing space? Is misanthropy simply one more occupational hazard faced by anyone working for God, Inc.? (Ltd.?)

Perhaps my job description needs to be revised—expanded and made more complex—in order that I may work more effectively and more humanely at what I am called to do. If the good doctor of bodies hates the disease but not the patient, the good doctor of souls will hate the sin but not the sinner. The medical doctor confronts his string of ailing patients face to face—he does not flee from them, even if he avoids taking unnecessary risks (by kissing and sharing needles with them). Likewise, the spiritual physician—recognizing the real distinction between ‘corrupted’ and sound elements within himself—assists those whom he can with their own gradual recovery. He does not shun them, even when he suspects that they are beyond hope for recovery. For these, in particular, he summons from within himself the deepest compassion. Such ‘incurables,’ however, are perhaps not as common as we might suspect.

On Renunciation (10/4/12)

Bliss is not so much the fulfillment of bodily desires and emotional yearnings as it is freedom from enthrallment to these desires and yearnings, which can always be relied upon to disturb or unseat us from our true bliss. This observation is not confined solely to desire, but applies to all of the affects and perturbations of the soul. Bliss and serene contentedness, or poised neutrality, are one and the same. When you meditate, observe how your desires hijack your attention and direct it away from the center. Even the craving for centeredness, when it becomes urgently pressing, stands as a kind of impediment to perfect peace of mind. Our desires spontaneously project imagined objects or ends (desiderata), while genuine bliss seems to consist in the absence of all such objects of desire—being always sufficient unto itself. The inversion of desire, of course, is fear—and fear is every bit as effective a disrupter of our spiritual poise as desire is.

Some persons do not respond trustingly and receptively to the neutral bliss of perfect meditation, or centeredness. It is not that these persons find it unpalatable, an absurd suggestion, since bliss is intrinsically pleasant; rather, they are rattled by the fact that, once experienced, it throws all of their established, long believed-in, human-all-too-human goals, pleasures, and assumptions into a peculiar light. Genuine spiritual illumination necessarily exposes all merely human aims, pleasures, and dreams for the shadows and poor substitutes (for genuine spiritual contentment) that, alas, they are.[1]

I suspect that most, if not all, persons, at one time or another, enjoy spontaneously occurring moments of this unadulterated spiritual bliss. These moments probably occur more frequently during childhood—before the young person has become fully enmeshed in his/her role(s) and functions within society. Once mundane reality and everyday demands have thoroughly conscripted our souls and we become the more or less helpless servants of our desires, duties, talents, fears, and so forth, it becomes far more difficult for us to relax our way into the stillpoint. But if perchance such a moment of grace lifts such a slave out of his bondage, soon after the joy of liberation is savored ‘the world’ and one’s established place in that world reasserts its dominating power over us and the moment of joy is drowned out by the noise and bustle of ‘real life.’

Every once in awhile, here and there among the children of men, someone will say to himself after such a moment of euphoric freedom: ‘This is the true reality! The scripted and plotted life that I lead as an ego among other egos is the inauthentic, artificial realm of experience!’ In deciding to switch his allegiance from the world of social duties and limited personal attachments to the inner path of spiritual liberation, he initially invites all sorts of trouble into his life. The transformation he has inwardly committed himself to will not happen quickly or painlessly. It is perhaps the hardest thing in the world to overcome one’s attachments to the world, for what this ultimately comes down to is overcoming our deeply-rooted desire for incarnation in the world of ordinary human experience.   Before we can truly and enduringly abide in the spirit, we must die to the world. Each lives the other’s death, in a very real sense.

For a long time, therefore, the committed seeker after spiritual liberation will be mired in the agonizing struggle to master those recurring desires and stubborn attachments that define his personal ego consciousness and the general trajectory of his life. It may be the desire for fame as a great teacher or saint that is the secret engine driving his ego, or it may be a sentimental, sticky attachment to his mate or his child. Persons who are profoundly attached—or addicted—to sensual pleasures, to personal power and wealth, or to intoxicants of some kind or another are not likely candidates for enduring spiritual liberation, since these compulsions are exceedingly difficult to break free from, not to speak of the more vicious and brutish inclinations which have captured the helpless souls of the criminally depraved and the possessed.

The protracted and arduous struggles of the committed seeker after release (from the compulsive tendencies and the pet illusions of his own ego) will be rewarded from time to time with reassuring episodes of great inner peace and an extraordinary sense of groundedness in his true and authentic essence. These periodically encountered oases of spiritual refreshment and encouragement have certainly restored my own strength and determination as I have trudged through the desert of the world as experienced and known only by the ego. Only after we have lost our initial innocence and ignorance (about the actual hollowness and essential fraudulence of the ‘constructed’ world and its offerings) are we in a position to systematically deconstruct that world—to see through it and to gradually extricate ourselves from its seductive snares. Without these periodic infusions of spiritual insight and encouragement, we would possess no counterweight against the tantalizing pull of the world—or, contrariwise, against the nihilism of despair, which constitutes every bit as strong an obstacle to our inner freedom.

Who, then, is committed? It is not—it cannot rightfully be—the ego, since it is the ego’s perspective that is being seen through, relativized, and, ultimately transcended. It is the spirit-spark itself—what the Hindus call atman—that is behind the whole process, from start to finish. We find an analogy in Gnostic mythology: Sophia, believing that she was pursuing the light of the hidden God, was actually plunging into matter, where the divine light was being reflected. Similarly, the atman, or spirit, may be said to have become identified with its shadow, or reflection, in the individual human ego—its carnal twin. The spirit is awakening from that slumberous descent—returning to its true home—leaving behind the lesser lights for the ‘invisible sun.’

[1] When we experience exceptional joy or happiness while engaged in some activity or in beholding some beautiful scene, the activity or the scene may best be thought of as opening a portal or window into the joy or bliss that is always native to our innermost being—if we could but see this. What happens though, is that we typically reify the happiness and conflate it with the activity or with the scene which, properly speaking, are merely occasions for the bliss that is always within reach, regardless of the circumstances.